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Pheasants

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[edit] Bird Family – Pheasants(Phasianinae)

Pheasants are among the world's most beautiful birds. All but one of the approximately 49 species, and many more subspecies, of pheasants are native to Asia. They inhabit a variety of habitats, from the snowy Himalayas to the steamy jungles of Indonesia. The Phasianidae is a very large family of Old World gallinaceous birds. It includes the ancestral chicken and the ancestral peacock. The family is divided into two subfamilies: the Pheasants (Phasianinae) and the Partridges (Perdicinae). Among the pheasants are spectacular alpine and subalpine species like monals and tragopans, and also beautiful tropical birds such as Green Peafowl.

Pheasants have long been aviculture subjects. Egyptian pharaohs kept peafowl, and Alexander the Great brought them to Greece some 2,500 years ago. Their flexibility to aviculture is significant in their survival. One species, the Edward's Pheasant, was once believed to be extinct in the jungles of Vietnam, but there were sustainable populations in aviaries and re-introduction programs are now in place. The Cheer Pheasant from Pakistan and Swinhoe's Pheasant from Taiwan are two species who have benefited from re-introductions of captive-bred birds. However, pheasants have also been one of the most mis-managed groups of birds in captivity and the need for profit in aviculture has lead to a number of hybrids, inbreeding issues, mutations and complete disappearances of species and subspecies.

Pheasants do not migrate long distances, although they often use different habitats seasonally. They are omnivores, eating mostly plant matter in the winter and insects in the summer. All species have a heavy, round body. Legs and neck are short, head and tail are small except in a few long-tailed species, and facial ornamentation varies. Coloration of skin and plumage also varies, but males are almost always the more colorful sex. Pheasant are characterized by strong sexual dimorphism, with males being extremely ornate with vivid colors and adornments such as wattles and long tails. Males are typically larger than the females, and have longer tails. Males play no part in nurture the young.

Pheasants are found throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Habitats vary widely for these birds. Some live in mountain regions, others in subtropical forests and rainforests. Still others prefer the grasslands. Many of the males in this family have loud and dramatic displays. Nests are built on the ground, and clutch size is usually large. The young are precocial, able to walk and feed themselves within a few hours of hatching. There are 35 species of pheasant in 11 different genera. The best-known is the Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) which is widespread throughout the world in introduced feral populations and in farm operations.

In many countries pheasant species are hunted, often illegally, as game, and several species are threatened by this and other human activities such as illegal logging and habitat loss. Phasianidae are "good eating'," many have been widely introduced as gamebirds around the globe. Some, especially Indian Peafowl, have also been introduced for their beauty. In additional to their retiring habits, many pheasants are endangered or threatened with extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat, especially logging. Birdlife International lists 24 pheasants in the most at-risk categories.

A good example of the difficulty in seeing and then photographing any of the pheasants is the Great Argus of Southeast Asia and the Greater Sundas. Males spend much of their time on dancing grounds, giving a far-carrying kee-oww cry that announces their presence. Although the male has incredibly beautiful plumage each long secondary has up to 20 golden ocelli and tail feathers that are four times longer than any other feather on the big bird, it is still cryptic on the dark forest floor, and quickly slips away if disturbed.

Golden Pheasant is one of the most admired of all pheasant species kept in captivity. The Golden has been kept in captivity since as early as 1740. This species, along with the Lady Amherst Pheasant (C. amherstiae), make up the group of pheasants called the Ruffed Pheasants, genus Chrysolophus. They are named for their cape or ruff which they spread around their face and neck during courtship.

The males are one of the most intensely colored of all birds. The adult males have a full, silky golden-yellow crest with perhaps a slight tinge of red at the tip. The face, throat, chin and the sides of the neck are rusty tan; the wattles and orbital skin are yellow. The ruff or cape is a pale fulvous to a light orange, with each feather with a bluish-black border. The upper back is green and the rest of the back and rump is a golden-yellow. The breast is scarlet; the flanks and underparts are scarlet changing into a light chestnut. The tertiaries of the wing are blue and the scapulars are dark red. The central tail feathers are black, spotted with cinnamon and the tip of the tail cinnamon buff. The upper tail coverts are the same color as the central tail feathers. Immature males resemble hens, but will have a spotted tail and varied patches of red throughout the plumage. The hen, as in most pheasants, has a much duller coloration than the male. At first site, she is an overall rufous brown with dark barring and a buff face and throat. The breast and sides are a barred buff and blackish brown. Her abdomen is a plain buff which varies from hen to hen. Both sexes have yellow legs and bill.

Indian Peafowl, the National Bird of India. This species is sometimes simply called the Peacock; the peacock is the male, females are known as peahens and the young are peachicks. Peafowl have been kept in captivity for many centuries and have been reported in ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek history. They found in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Many feral populations exist throughout the world. Unmistakable, could only possibly be confused with the Green Peafowl. Males are large, with a long ornate tail used for courtship. Distinguishable from Green Peafowl in having a royal blue neck and breast; facial skin is white, crest is fan shaped. Immature males have varied plumage, but will have the fan-shaped crest and mottled blue upperparts. Second year males show a smaller tail, often without ocelli. By the third year, they reach full plumage and sexual maturity. The tail may continue to grow for another two to three years. Males will molt and lose their tails each year in late summer.

The checklist of the birds found in Family Phasianinae – Pheasants is given below.

Common Name Scientific Name
1 Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus
2 Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha
3 Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos
4 Silver Pheasant Lophura nycthemera
5 Imperial Pheasant Lophura imperialis
6 Edward's Pheasant Lophura edwardsi
7 Swinhoe's Pheasant Lophura swinhoii
8 Salvadori's Pheasant Lophura inornata
9 Crestless Fireback Pheasant Lophura erythrophthalma
10 Crested Fireback Pheasant Lophura ignita
11 Siamese Fireback Lophura diardi
12 Bulwer's Wattled Pheasant Lophura bulweri
13 White-eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon
14 Brown Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon mantchuricum
15 Blue Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon auritum
16 Cheer Pheasant Catreus wallichi
17 Reeve's Pheasant Syrmaticus reevesi
18 Elliot's Pheasant Syrmaticus ellioti
19 Bar-tailed Pheasant Syrmaticus humiae
20 Mikado Pheasant Syrmaticus mikado
21 Copper Pheasant Syrmaticus soemmerringi
22 Green Pheasant Phasianus versicolor
23 Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
24 Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus
25 Lady Amherst's Pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae
26 Bronze-tailed Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron chalcurum
27 Mountain Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron inopinatum
28 Germain's Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron germaini
29 Grey Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum
30 Malaysian Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron malacense
31 Bornean Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron schleiermacheri
32 Palawan Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron emphanum
33 Crested Argus Pheasant Rheinartia ocellata
34 Great Argus Pheasant Argusianus argus
35 Double-banded Argus Argusianus bipunctatus


[edit] References

  • The Pheasants of the World: Biology and Natural History, Johnsgard
  • gbwf.org
  • A Manual of the Game Birds of India - Vol I and II – Oates
  • The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds, Hume


Arpit Deomurari
Consultant (Environment, GIS and IT)
[email protected]